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Offer Your Barley Loaves

July 25, 2021

A reflection for the 17th Sunday, Ordinary Time, year B. The readings are 2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145; Ephesians 4:1-6 and John 6:1-15.

Jesus Gives Thanks. From FreeBibleimages: Feeding of the Multitudes, Good News Productions and College Press Publishing Co. Artist: Paula Nash Giltner.

“Jesus then took the loaves and gave thanks…”

That’s what I’d like us to focus on today: Jesus gives thanks, the way Jewish people always gave thanks before eating: Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam hamotzi lehem min ha’aretz. “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” That small action is what I think makes the whole difference in this beautiful story we hear today – that we’ve heard so often because it is one of the few stories that is found in all four Gospels.  In fact in Mark and Matthew it happens twice: Jesus feeds the multitudes twice in Mark and Matthew. That’s how significant this story is.

This year we’ve been reading the Gospel of Mark – and if you continue reading, following what we read last week in Mark, this is what comes next, the feeding of the multitudes. But today we read the story from the Gospel of John. And I want to point that out because over the next four weeks, we’re taking a little break from reading Mark and focusing on the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John, which is when Jesus declares that He is the Bread of Life. John, chapter 6 is called the “Bread of Life Discourse” and over the next four weeks we’re going to be reading it – it’s like a little summer retreat. And that’s significant because Jesus begins to tell us that He is the Bread of Life by actually feeding us: by, in the words of the Psalm, opening his hand to feed us and satisfying all our needs. And I think that it is in the act of giving thanks that makes that miracle happen. So that’s what we’re going to focus on today.

But before that, there are a few things you have to remember about this story.

Jesus can very well feed the crowds all by himself. He can perform the miracle by himself. He is God. But he doesn’t. He wants our help. He invites us to participate in his saving work. “How do you think we should feed these people?” We could respond like Philip with despair and drama: “We can’t feed all these people! We’d need like $30,000 to feed all these people. It’s impossible!” How often do we respond like that? With despair and drama? And so we don’t help; we shut the door to the Spirit.

Or we can respond like Andrew. I think that Andrew doesn’t know what’s going to happen either, but still, “here’s this little boy that has 5 loaves and 2 fishes.” Not sure what that can do. It’s not enough. Sometimes we are like that. We think that what we have to offer is not enough; not significant – and so we don’t offer it. Now John makes the point to mention that these were barley loaves. That’s also significant. Rich people could afford wheat and made bread out of wheat and they fed barley to the animals. But poor people had to make bread with barley. So here’s this food; it’s not enough and it’s the food of the poor, not the food you offer guests that come over for dinner; It’s embarrassing.’ it’s maybe not food that any one wants. Again, how often are we like that, not offering what we have because we don’t think anyone wants it; because we think it’s useless. “I don’t have anything except my grief, my pain, my anger, my ignorance…” but we need to offer it anyway.

That’s what Jesus wants. He turns to us and says, “I love barley bread!” And then he offers thanks.    

Jesus takes the bread – this bread of the poor that is not enough and maybe people don’t even want  – and he gives thanks: Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam hamotzi lehem min ha’aretz. “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”  That’s the prayer that Jewish people always say before eating. Jews have a very beautiful practice which is to offer a prayer of blessing and thanksgiving for everything! They do it when they wake up, when they wash their hands, when they drink wine, when they eat fruits, when they go to the bathroom, when they see beautiful things, when they go to bed at night, even for when they hear thunder… “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe…” fill in the blank. What a beautiful practice: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, for you made wonderful things for us. Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, for you have brought us to this day. Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, for you give sleep to my eyes.

Today we are being invited to have an attitude of gratitude always.

How different would our world be if we always gave thanks – for everything. Not just for what is good – it’s easy when it’s good: “Thank you Lord cause I got that promotion; thank you Lord cause I got that job interview; thank you Lord cause I won the lottery!” That’s easy. It’s not easy when it’s not good. It’s so easy to complain. But, if you get bad news from the doctor: “Thank you, Lord because I have a doctor and we have health care and it’s free.” You’re stuck in traffic and you’re going to be late for work: “Thank you, Lord that I have a car and that I have air conditioning in the car.” We can always find small blessings. And, I’d say the next step is to give thanks for the things we take for granted. “Blessed are you Lord our God, for we have clean water.” Blessed are you,  Lord our God, ‘cause I woke up this morning…. Today we are being reminded to always give thanks – to have an attitude of gratitude for everything: For what we have, for what we don’t have; for the little that we have; for the barley loaves in our lives.  Thank you, gracias, obrigado, salamat, do jeh, danke sehr, merci, grazie, dziękuję, gamsahabnida, toda, naṉṟi, shukran… we know how to say it in so many languages. Efcharistó – that’s thank you in Greek. Efcharistó. That’s where our word for Eucharist comes from. This is what Jesus does, he says, efcharistó: eucharist.

Eucharist means thanksgiving.

This is what we do here at every Mass; we practice thanksgiving. Which is why at Mass as we begin the Liturgy of the Eucharist, you hear the presider say very similar words (sometimes we don’t hear them because he says them quietly while we’re singing the offertory hymn), ”Blessed are you, Lord of all creation for through your goodness we have received this bread….” And then ”Blessed are you, Lord of all creation for through your goodness we have received this wine….” . That’s the thanksgiving prayer that Jesus prayed.  But we shouldn’t only do it at Mass. We should do it all the time, for every occasion. And in that act of thanksgiving, our hearts will be transformed.

How about we start that practice today?

If I can end with a small example of how this can look in your life. Even though many of us have been familiar for many years with the history of the Residential School system, in Canada  I’m sure  all of us are now really becoming aware of that history and about the Sixties Scoop, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the history of Canada-Indigenous relations, and the role that the Catholic Church – and I use that term broadly – Catholics, Catholic institutions, dioceses, orders, the role that we played in that evil and misguided system. And we have all kinds of reactions: Anger, grief, sadness, despair, indifference. And we go to Christ because we want him to heal us; we want him to feed us. We want him to make it right. And we should take it to Jesus.

And Jesus looks at us – he looks at the multitude and he has compassion over them for they are like sheep without a shepherd – and he turns to us and says, “How are you going to feed all these people?” And we can respond like Philip and say, “it’s impossible! I can’t do it! It’s not my responsibility. I wasn’t there when it happened. I’m not a bishop. It’s up to the government. Why do I have to do something?!” Or, like Andrew, we say, I don’t have anything much to offer you, Lord, only these barley loaves. All I have is my grief, my anger, my feelings of disgust, my lack of understanding, my disbelief, my indifference, my ignorance… And Jesus takes all that, and says, “Meegwetch! Thank you. I love barley bread!” Then he offers thanksgiving, Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam hamotzi lehem min ha’aretz. Efcharistó.  And he multiplies it and he transforms it, so that the whole world can be fed.

And in that moment of thanksgiving, a miracle takes place in your heart and you begin to be transformed, and you will know how to respond to this particular crisis or situation.

Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, for you give us barley loaves. You open wide your hand to feed us, you satisfy all our needs. And you invite us to participate in your saving work, so that the whole world can be fed. 


From → English, Reflections

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